UChicago, MBL announce Lillie Awards for novel collaborations

Update, Oct. 8: Applications for the Lillie Awards can be downloaded here. Visit this MBL site for further guidelines.

The University of Chicago and the Marine Biological Laboratory have created a new MBL research award program that will provide funding for scientists to develop novel, collaborative projects based at the MBL that will lead to transformative biological discoveries.

The initiative will be known as the Frank R. Lillie Innovation Research Awards, in honor of the early 20th-century embryologist who served as the MBL’s second director and as chair of UChicago’s Department of Zoology. The awards represent the first formal new research opportunity since the announcement in June 2013 of the new affiliation between UChicago and the MBL.


Funding through the awards will be open to collaborators from the worldwide MBL research community. It includes year-round MBL scientists and scientists from other institutions who currently participate or propose to participate as visiting researchers, or course faculty in the MBL’s renowned summer programs.

“The Lillie Awards signify one of the first steps our institutions are taking together to realize the highest aspirations of our new affiliation—to encourage innovative, groundbreaking biological research that benefits science at the MBL and beyond,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer.

“The MBL’s motto is ‘biological discovery in Woods Hole,’ and its special influence in modern biology has been to bring together scientists from around the world to collaborate and exchange ideas, leading to discoveries that have transformed biology and biomedicine,” said MBL President and Director Joan V. Ruderman. “This program will help seed promising working collaborations that can then take root in the MBL’s fertile intellectual setting.”

The Lillie Awards will provide for two years of pilot research for a total of $125,000 per award, in honor of the MBL’s 125th anniversary. They are intended to bring together interdisciplinary teams that have not collaborated before, for a project that represents a new area of inquiry for the investigators. The goal is to stimulate more “blue sky” thinking by investigators that can lead to external funding with a consortium of collaborators working together on a big problem.

Teams who receive the Lillie Awards will be able to develop their projects over a period including two or three successive summers, working in residence as a team at the MBL, in addition to continued progress on the project during the traditional academic years between MBL visits.

“Today’s funding environment can make it difficult to develop innovative, collaborative projects that require time to take shape and establish connections,” said Joshua Hamilton, Chief Academic and Scientific Officer at the MBL. “By providing the time and place for new collaborations, these awards will help our scientists take unexpected directions and address new problems, including ‘high-risk, high-payoff’ projects that are increasingly difficult to fund at the national level.”

Proposals for the awards will be accepted starting in mid-October, with a deadline of Dec. 15, 2013 for the first round of submissions. An external blue-ribbon panel of scientific experts will be established to review proposals in early 2014, with award notices provided by March 31, 2014. The institutions will make two awards available in each of the next two years, with the two-year projects beginning in spring 2014 and spring 2015. The application form can be downloaded as a Word template here. More information is available on the MBL/ University of Chicago affiliation website.

The decision to name the awards after Frank R. Lillie highlights the collaborative aims of the new UChicago-MBL affiliation. Lillie was a student at MBL and UChicago under Charles O. Whitman, the MBL’s founding director, who also served as the founding chair of Zoology at UChicago. Lillie became a faculty member at the University of Chicago in 1900 and remained until his death in 1947. In addition to his role as Zoology chair and MBL director, Lillie later served as dean of UChicago’s Division of Biological Sciences. Present in Woods Hole every summer for 55 years, Lillie was instrumental in establishing the MBL as a pre-eminent biological laboratory.

“We have laid the principle of cooperation at [the MBL’s] foundation,” Lillie said, “and we have attempted to build it into every one of our activities.”

The affiliation between UChicago and the MBL is designed to build on shared values and historical ties between the institutions. The MBL has been a driving force in biological discovery and research training since its founding in 1888. Both institutions have reputations for scientific excellence, highly collaborative cultures that draw top scientists from around the world, and programs that will benefit from the affiliation’s combination of strengths.